Monday, September 12, 2011

What a Man has to Offer, Part 3

I decided that I should at least make SOME effort to finish SOMETHING I’ve started.  And this started, as most of my endeavors are wont to do, with a random conversation … that developed into a blog post … that developed into a three-part series about … of all things … men. 
So, without further ado, here is a final attempt to describe the valuable things that men have to offer in relationship...
Humility
A man who is secure enough in his identity to see his faults and his failures … nay, a man who can look his failure dead in the eye and stare it down as if he’s Daniel Craig in Cowboys and Aliens, this is a man who is welcome to audition for the hero in my Sci-Fi Western just about any day of the week.  But I’m not just talking about a man who can admit when he’s wrong; he has to own his character defects.  He has to accept the consequences of his actions and endeavor to rebuild when necessary; he has to understand what it means to make amends and to live a life worthy of repentance.

There is something breath-catching about humility, something that hints of a backbone made of steel, something that flashes the way Conan’s oiled, bulging muscles glint in the sun.  Real humility is strong. It’s solid. It’s even a little intimidating.

God told me something once.  He said, “It’s not about whether you make a mistake, it’s how you deal with the mistake afterwards that counts.”  He doesn’t say that to everyone, mind you.  He was specifically challenging my perfectionism, my legalism, my neuroticism.  He was teaching me about a humility that doesn’t cling to a fragile idealism, that doesn’t shatter at the mere hint of reality.  Humility doesn’t minimize wrongs.  It embraces them carefully, respectfully, as one embraces someone with a really bad sunburn.  It seeks correction.  It seeks instruction.  It seeks the good.
But humility isn’t just about the integrity demonstrated in the aftermath of a screw up.  Humility acknowledges that one doesn’t have all the answers to begin with.  Humility listens, for example.   Humility says, “Teach me.”  In fact, humility is one of the most formidable weapons one can wield against denial, oppression, and insanity.  And it is intricately intertwined with the next item on the list:
Security
I hesitate to use this word, honestly, lest it tap into or connote something that has to do with money or a capitalist idea of success.  This is not about financial security.  This is about a man who IS secure, who knows who he is and what he’s about, who has grounded his identity in the Creator not the created.  This goes back to the Daniel Craig metaphor; it takes a secure man to admit his wrongs, his character defects.  A fragile man cannot face them.  They are too scary.  They mean too many things.  They are too overwhelming, too awful, too depressing.  They don’t feel good and they obliterate easy answers.  A man who finds his security in something bigger than himself can feel and he can feel bad.  He doesn’t need to have answers. He can be in difficult situations and not know what to do and it’s okay.
Secure identity, like many things on this list, is not something that one just decides to have or do.  It has to be sought.  It has to be built over time.  It is something for which to be fought.  It has to be valued and chosen again and again.  It has to be wrought in one’s spirit by a power greater than self.  But when it is sought, it can be offered, and when it is offered, I thoroughly and completely agree with John Eldredge: It creates a safe space for a woman to feel and be feminine and to offer herself, too.
But, enough with the vague and abstract, the deep and philosophical!  I think I shall conclude this epic with some old-fashioned, concrete, social-science concepts…
The Ability to Tolerate Negative Emotion and to Delay Gratification
A man who runs from difficult feelings is a coward. Take it from a woman who runs from difficult emotions.  It’s childish.  It’s selfish.  It’s unattractive.  It’s destructive.  
This is not about masochism.  This is not about codependency or martyrdom.  Those things are not gifts in relationship - they are nasty life-suckers. But a man who chooses to feel and who can tolerate discomfort, anxiety, sadness, and even anger without jumping ship, rescuing, judging, attacking, criticizing, or wallowing has got an amazing strength to offer - a substantive, lasting kind of strength that isn’t blown about like a sailboat in a hurricane.
Directly related: The ability to delay gratification.  This is the foundation for that backbone of steel, the whey protein for those glinting muscles.  Most guys don’t bother to cultivate these gifts, let alone offer them, because they aren’t easy and they don’t produce instant results.  No woman is going to pass a guy on the street and do a double-take, whispering to her friends, “Dang, did you see that guy’s ability to delay gratification?! I want a ride like that in my back yard!”
I may have inadvertently created a double entendre there.  Oh well.  The point is, well, that IS the point.  Who wants to tolerate negative emotions and delay gratification when all it’s going to mean is having to do it, well, more?  But this is the gift of long-term relationship.  This generates the kind of respect that follows you for a lifetime.  This isn’t Johnny Depp as Captain Jack; it’s Orlando Bloom as the new Davy Jones.  It’s going to take the right girl being in the right place in a once-every-ten-years-kind-of-way in order to really appreciate it.  But oh, the appreciation!  Of course, that isn’t even the point, either.  The point is to develop respect for oneself, that’s the point.
Now, for those of you who have demonstrated the ability to tolerate negative emotions and to delay gratification long enough to make it this far, I have a bonus for you.  The list was supposed to end here but there is one more thing, one more gift a man can offer:
Community
Once upon a time in a white, Euro-American culture, it was manly to be the lone ranger, to go it alone, to prove yourself by yourself by doing it yourself.  Perhaps this is a necessary element of some stage of our development as people.  Maybe it might even be a rite of passage for men.  Okay. I can accept that.  And if there is any doubt, be sure to revisit gift number four on the list: Adulthood is a hot commodity.  But with just the tiniest bit of digging, we have discovered that no man ever did it alone.  A man in isolation is just a needy creeper in sheep’s clothing - sometimes in wolf’s clothing - and no little girl dreams of someday being a man’s soul support.  In fact, if a woman has fantasized about her wedding (and not all of them do, mind you), it’s most often about the communal delight.  A woman wants to rejoice with others in you, and she wants others to delight with you in her and in your relationship.  
Go read Song of Soloman.  It’s in the Bible.  
But more than delight, this also goes back to a man being an adult and developing his social skills.  A healthy man invests in relationships besides the romantic.  He invests in the world. He invests in life.  How do you think he learns how to be in a romantic relationship?  He needs friendships. He needs mentors, brothers, sisters.  He needs accountability.  How do you think he builds all these character traits I’ve been cooing over?  He serves.  He finds purpose in that which is larger than himself.
I love it when a romantic interest wants to be a part of my life, wants to meet my friends and include them, when he cares about my world, my family. I also love it when he invites me into his world, a world that is not shabby and neglected and bereft of human contact but filled with people who know him, people who respect him and whom he respects.  It tells me I’m not in it alone - we’re not in it alone.  It provides safety.  It prepares a place for relationship to grow.  It empowers me.  It empowers us.  I want him to have someone to whom he has confessed his deepest darkest secrets, and in general I’d prefer it not to have been a woman.  I want him to have friends who can talk sense into him when he’s not thinking straight.  I want to know people are encouraging him to follow God, holding him up, and holding him accountable.  I want to know he’s taken the time to invest in and create that.  When a man offers himself to community and he offers community to relationship, he offers something larger than himself, something more than he alone can give.  He offers life.
*     *     *
Until we meet again,
Sparrow